12/21/2009 12:00AM

El Paso man no longer a contest maiden

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It's not often you find a 62-year-old maiden, but Daniel Touchette of El Paso, Texas, probably won't mind that title after he finally made it to the winner's circle and earned a berth to the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship next month.

This year, the NTRA added the Maiden Challenge to its tournament schedule, and last Saturday's event was restricted to NHC Tour members who hadn't qualified for the 11th annual NHC, which will be held Jan. 29-30 at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. No prize money was offered and no points for the NHC Tour. It was purely a free roll for a spot in the finals.

Contestants made 10 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on designated races from Calder, Fair Grounds, Hawthorne, and Hollywood Park. Payoffs were capped at $42 to win and $22 to place, but that wasn't an issue as there wasn't a single price that got capped.

It was a chalky day, at least in the races used in the contest. After Touchette missed the winner of the first contest race, the seventh at Calder, won by Longlastinglove ($17.80), he cashed in every other race. He capped it off with the biggest winner of the day, with Orient Emperor taking the 10th race at Hollywood and paying $20 to win and $10.20 to place. That gave Touchette, who used his own name on his entry, the winning score of $85.90 to edge out the aliases of hititbigger ($84.30) and knopster ($83).

"I was in fifth place heading into that race," Touchette said. "I was in the top 10 almost all day long. I saw that horse had run faster than anyone else eight races ago at Hollywood and figured he must like the track."

Touchette said he has been following horse racing since he was in his teens in his native Boston and remembers jumping the fence at Suffolk Downs when he was 18. He moved to El Paso in 1968 when he was in the Army and stayed there after his tour of duty was complete. He owns a container yard, which stores those huge containers you see on ships. Touchette, who uses DRF past performances, said he has been playing more since 2006 when he hit pick sixes on three straight racing days, cashing for around $26,600 and $13,600 at Hollywood Park over the weekend and then $164,000 on an Aqueduct carryover the following Wednesday.

"Now that was a great week," he said.

But he would surpass that score if he were to win the $1 million NHC, which will award $500,000 to the champion

Touchette said he joined the NHC Tour for the first time this year and played in about a dozen qualifying tournaments. He said he tried to get in the NHCqualify.com tourneys in December but they were already sold out.

"I figured I would give this a try, and I'm glad I did," he said.

Tour leaderboard tightens up

Steven Hartshorn of Newport Beach, Calif., won the $400 buy-in NHCqualify.com event last Saturday. Hartshorn had already earned a spot in next month's NHC but was playing for Tour points, because the year-long champion wins a $100,000 prize as well as being eligible for a $2 million bonus if he goes on to win the NHC finals. The top five finishers also collect prize money as well as automatic berths into the 12th NHC in January 2011.

Bryan Wagner of New Orleans was the leader heading into last weekend with 10,024 points. Winners of NHC qualifying tournaments receive 3,000 for a first-place finish, 2,100 for second place, $1,575 for third, 1,400 for fourth, 1,225 for fifth, 1,000 for sixth, and then a graduated scale down to 30th place, or 10 percent of the number of entrants, whichever is fewer.

Hartshorn had exactly 8,000 points entering last weekend (based on a second-place finish at Fairplex, a second at Canterbury, a third in the Breeders' Cup Challenge, a fifth at Hollywood, and a sixth at Del Mar Surfside). But before you think that the 3,000 points for winning at NHCqualify.com put him in the lead with 11,000, there's a rule that only the top five scores are used, so that dropped out the 1,000 from Surfside to put him at 10,000, still 24 points behind Wagner.

The final event for NHC Tour members to earn points is this Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 26-27, at the Surfside Super Qualifier at Surfside Race Place in Del Mar, Calif. (The final qualifier for the 11th NHC is the aptly named Last Chance Qualifier on Jan. 27 at the Red Rock Resort, but that doesn't count toward 2009 Tour points.) In addition to offering six NHC berths to those who have yet to qualify, the Surfside Super Qualifier is expected to attract most of the Tour contenders with a shot at Wagner. The entry fee is $500 for Tour members and $625 for non-members with a limit of three per person. The field is capped at 300 entries. More details can be found at www.drf.com/nhc or www.surfsideraceplace.com